Ann Widdecombe, Nigel Farage and Mark Francois: The Brexiteers of the Year
PUBLISHED: 20:14 29 December 2019 | UPDATED: 20:14 29 December 2019
After a dramatic 12 months, here is STEVE ANGLESEY’S lowdown of the losers who ended up winning.
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20 CHARLOTTE GILL
A Brexiteer journalist for the Sun, Telegraph and Mail on Sunday, Gill appeared to call for the end of satire after the general election, tweeting "I can't believe Have I Got News For You is laying into the Tories. Even now! Have they learnt nothing? The majority of voters identify with Tories now. You are insulting them by association. Gosh, we really do need to drain the swamp of these woke automatons dominating the airwaves."
Alas for Charlotte, the abolition of political comedy did not feature in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. But stick around for 2024 and she might get what she wants...
19 UKIP'S THREE LEADERS
Extremist-embracing Gerard Batten departed after a disastrous European elections campaign which he launched by declaring: "We will not be going back to Brussels to get our snouts back in the gravy train... you don't put your snout in a gravy train, do you? You put it in a trough. And the trough is on the gravy train."
Replacement Dick Braine was best known for the Sun headline "Don't call me Dick Braine, says Dick Braine", refused to attend his own party's conference and finally stepped down amid accusations of data misuse, which he denies. Caretaker Pat Mountain told the general election manifesto launch that "I've never met any racists in UKIP - well, maybe a few people on the edge but not seriously racist."
Who's next? Our money is on conference standout Freddy Vachha, who spoke while brandishing a piece of toilet roll on which he had made notes for his speech. Vachha likened it to the moment "when on the men's toilet mirror in Alexandria, Field Marshal Montgomery sketched out the plan for the invasion of Sicily. The wrong plan, as it was, as he invaded the wrong place…"
18 DARREN GRIMES
The young Leave campaigner tweeted in June: "I think by the end of the year we'll have a Jeremy Corbyn-led coalition government, electoral reform, no Brexit, a second Scottish referendum and the end of the Conservative Party as we know it." Just call him the Brexit Nostradamus!
17 DAVID BULL
No sooner had he been elected as a Brexit Party MEP than Bull was moaning about the commute to his £105,000-a-year job. He wrote: "It's eight hours… Ipswich to London Liverpool Street, so after that I have to go from London Liverpool Street to King's Cross. From King's Cross I then have to go to Paris… I then have to go from Paris to Strasbourg... And I'm going to have to do this repeatedly because for some reason parliament seems to be in a very inaccessible place." Alas, Brexit means we will be deprived of Bull lobbying for the parliament to be moved to Suffolk.
16 GEOFF BOYCOTT
Proving that Theresa May could still cock things up even when out of power, the former cricketer celebrated the knighthood he picked up in her resignation honours by claiming that he voted to leave the EU partly because of his 1997 conviction in France for assaulting his then-girlfriend. Boycott said: "It was a court case in France where you're guilty until you're proved innocent, which is one reason I don't vote to remain in Europe." He added: "It was 25 years ago, so you can take your political nature and do what you want to do with it… I couldn't give a toss."
15 MARTIN DAUBNEY
One of the Brexit Party's leading thinkers, the former Loaded editor claimed Geneva was in Sweden and made an EU parliament speech in which he seemed to reveal you "throw" rather than "hold" elections, asking a baffled Guy Verhofstadt "remember how you opposed Turkey wanting to throw a new election because you didn't agree with the first one yet you want us to throw a second referendum in the UK?"
'Daubs' later told the Guardian: "If you're trying to enact change in an institution, then you're better off being part of it." This turned out to mean Martin's desire to stay on an MEP's salary in the event of no Brexit, rather than staying in the EU. Sadly, this intellect will soon be lost to Brussels and he failed to persuade the voters of Ashfield at the general election too, finishing a poor fourth after he was videoed laughing when a constituent suggested "strapping a battery" on the backs of illegal immigrants "so they can trace them".
14 THE DUP
Lost Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, a fifth of their seats and their influence in the Commons at a general election which returned a majority of seats for nationalist parties in Northern Ireland for the first time. But Arlene Foster's crazy gang had happier times when they launched their Euro election campaign under the slogan 'Strength To Deliver'. That led to rivals joking the DUP manifesto should be titled "Do you have an STD? The DUP have".
13 THE MIGRANTS
The Brexit Party remained keener than you might have thought on the idea of people from overseas coming over here and telling us what to think. Ed Punchard polled 1,963 votes in Tynemouth despite living 9,000 miles away in Freemantle, Australia, where he runs a documentary-making business which has produced shows including Outback Truckers, Shipwreck Psycho and Dino Stampede.
Amanda Hunter, who was stood down from North East Bedfordshire in Nigel Farage's great capitulation, had spent the last 20 years in Italy, having also lived in Spain and Greece. Rachel Warby, who stood down in South Northamptonshire, had been operating a hairdressing business in Benidorm and had pledged to "share what I grow in my garden" if Britain suffered food shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, Brian Monteith remains (for now) a Brexit Party MEP for North-East England despite living in the south of France. He described this state of affairs as "not unusual" and "neither here nor there".
12 URI GELLER
The Israeli cutlery-worrier claimed 'respoonsibility' for the Tories' election win by insisting he had given Boris Johnson a spoon he "had energised with positive energy". Geller, who promised in March to use his psychic powers to stop Brexit, added: "I believe that Boris Johnson as PM is the very best thing for the UK right now concerning Brexit. You will come to understand what I mean in time."
11 PADMINI NISSANGA
In one of the most extreme examples of the toxic language which blighted politics in 2019, Kent councillor Nissanga posted on Facebook that Remainers were "traitors" who should "face the death penalty". She added: "We got Remainers? More than half of them are foreigners. Where are our English people going to live?" Nissanga is originally from Sri Lanka.
Naturally, she faced no action over her message and was re-elected in Sheppey East in May.
10 ESTHER McVEY
Her finest moments included a bizarre Tory conference speech, in which she hailed the efforts of "3D architects, 3D visionaries, doing it on a computer, doing it with a whole new raft of jobs" and a tweet claiming that "Boris is a panda". Is that because he eats, shoots and leaves?
McVey's dismal Tory leadership campaign ended in ridicule as she claimed foreign aid had funded an airport "built in the wrong direction" for crosswinds, making it impossible to take off and land. Asked to name names, Mcvey could only remember that it was "in one of the continents... abroad". This turned out to be St Helena, a UK overseas territory rather than an unconnected country receiving foreign aid, where commercial planes have been able to take off and land since 2017. This inability to grasp detail saw her punished by being promoted to minister of state for housing and planning.
9 THE NEW CROP
Lee Anderson (Ashfield) claimed that "nuisance tenants" should be forced to live in tents and pick potatoes, saying: "Let's have them in a tent in the middle of a field, six o'clock every morning… picking potatoes or any current seasonal vegetables, back in the tent, cold shower, lights out, six o'clock, same again the next day." Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) suggested disabled workers should be paid less as "they don't understand money". Neither was censured by the Tories and both won election, making now them part of Boris Johnson's inclusive, one-nation "people's government".
8 THE REES-MOGGS
Jacob's Commons lie-downs and unwanted advice on exiting a burning tower block added to a difficult year for Brexit's Professor Yaffle, during which his book The Victorians: Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain was slated by the critics.
Dominic Sandbrook in the Sunday Times called it "absolutely abysmal… terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published". AN Wilson of the Times' verdict was "staggeringly silly", "morally repugnant" and "anathema, surely, to anyone with an ounce of historical, or simply common, sense." Kathryn Hughes in the Guardian added: "At least we know The Victorians isn't ghostwritten, since no self-respecting freelancer would dare ask for payment for such rotten prose."
Jacob's sister Annunziata defected from the Brexit Party during the election campaign and advised her supporters to vote Tory, mere weeks after calling Boris Johnson "an opportunist… he does not believe in right and wrong, as far as I can tell he believes in Boris Johnson."
Annunziata has form for giving out dodgy advice. In 2005 she instructed readers of her financial column in investment magazine Moneyweek, "Google: don't join the mania", telling them the company did not "justify its current share price of $410". Google's share price as we went to press was $1,346.
7 NIGEL FARAGE
Being painted by his dwindling band of admirers as a kind of Brexit Jesus who sacrificed himself to get it done, Farage ended the year tweeting: "Anyone that protests against the election result ought to go and live in North Korea. We live in a democracy, Boris Johnson is prime minister and Brexit is (finally) happening."
It was typical of the muddled thinking the nicotine-stained man-frog displayed all year - if we live in a democracy, why criticise the right to protest? And didn't Farage call Johnson a "sellout" whose deal was "not Brexit"?
The silver lining is that Farage will soon be out of one of his lucrative jobs, the £105,000-a-year role as an MEP. The Brexit Party's significant contributions to the EU parliament have included abstaining on a resolution demanding that Iran release imprisoned EU-Iranian nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and voting against a resolution calling for tougher measures to combat Russian interference in European elections.
For all this, Brexiteer MP Andrew Bridgen called for Farage to be knighted.
6 STEVE BAKER
The ERG's leader gave us an unexpectedly candid look at his influences when, at the Tory conference, he tweeted this quote: "I give not Heaven for lost: from this descent celestial virtues rising will appear more glorious and more dread than from no fall, and trust themselves to fear no second fate." It turned out to be from Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost.
A holier-than-thou Baker had loftier things on his mind after the election, when in a Sunday Telegraph column he wrote, "In the season of goodwill isn't it time to accept the good faith of Brexit supporters like me? I invite my opponents to accept defeat, forgive and move on… Even if you go on to create a party to which Conservatives lose. God bless you in it."
5 BORIS AND DOM
All the prime minister's talk of never forgetting Remainers' "positive feelings of warmth and sympathy towards the other nations of Europe" was somewhat negated by his earlier triumphalism about "putting a sock in it" and ending "miserable threats of a second referendum." Meanwhile his chief of staff let the healing begin by laying into "better than average educated Remainer campaigner types" who "f**ked it up".
A Cummings briefing that Johnson may drop promises to guarantee workers' rights and environmental protections was a fitting finale to a year of deceit.
4 THE GRACIOUS VICTORS
The Sunday Telegraph's Janet Daley did not appear to get Boris Johnson's memo about making nice. Her piece, "The people have got their revenge against the hated Remainer diehards" ranted on about "a miasma of vitriol and hatred… shameless loathing… snobbery mutated into what sounded like eugenics… patronising guff".
In the Sunday Express, Nick Ferrari showed magnanimity with: "How marvellous to see the likes of Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Emma Dent Coad and David Gauke turfed out, Chuka Umunna and Sam Gyimah ignored, and also so much for the Conservatives' very own version of Hinge and Brackett, Lord Heseltine and Sir John Major. They've only themselves to blame."
And Richard Madeley declared himself delighted that: "We can watch the evening news without having to filter out the strains of 'STO-O-O-P BREXIT!' bellowed through the giant megaphone of that buffoon in the stupid hat."
3 ANN WIDDECOMBE
Grandma Empathy told 3,500 Swindon Honda workers who will lose their jobs when the plant closes in 2021 that they should not blame Brexit, adding: "Factories close all the time." She also advised Anna Soubry to "take it like a man" rather than complain about being harassed on the way into the Commons.
But Ann's most significant contributions to the year came in the field of political incorrectness, where she ended 2019 refusing to apologise for talking about the golliwogs she owned as a child in a WhatsApp group chat with Brexit Party activists. An earlier column for the Express had seen her write: "Most of us use language which is the product of our generation. That chap in the woodpile still causes trouble for a certain age group even though none of them would ever dream of using the N-word in any other way.
"When I was growing up, gay was an adjective you applied to Easter bonnets… A slut was a slovenly woman whose house was dirty. A glory hole was a cupboard under the stairs full of junk but, as I found out on Celebrity Big Brother, it has a somewhat less homely meaning now."
2 JILL HUGHES
Dropped as Brexit Party candidate for Batley and Spen after it emerged she had declared herself to hail from a distant star, some 8.611 light-years from Earth. Hughes told website the Soul Matrix: "I have just come to truly realise that my purpose is to raise consciousness here on earth - I originated from Sirius".
She is now planning legal action, but a Brexit Party spokesman said: "Is she suing us on the planet Sirius or on Earth? If the former we will need to consult with our intergalactic lawyers. Live long and prosper."
1 MARK FRANCOIS
"In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. In 2019, the red wall came down," gloated Francois during his election night appearance on the BBC, leaving Andrew Neil to ask "have you slightly gone mad? Are you hallucinating?"
It was just one more idiotic reference to Germany by the human luncheon meat statue of Penfold from Danger Mouse, adding to hits like the time he accused anti-Brexit Airbus CEO Tom Enders (born 1958) of being "a German paratrooper in his youth", or his joke about "Herr Juncker in his bunker" (Jean-Claude Juncker is from Luxembourg and therefore not a herr; nor, since his father was one of 10,000 Luxembourgish forcibly conscripted into the German army, of whom nearly 3,000 died, is he likely to find jokes about bunkers funny).
But perhaps the last laugh will be on Francois. On election night at Conservative campaign HQ, his TV appearance was greeted by heckling, including a cry of "he can say what the f*** he wants now - we don't need the ERG any more". Cold comfort perhaps, but in these times let's cling to what we can.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all Brex Factor readers. And yes, even to the Brexiteers. Now let the healing - sorry, the drinking - begin.
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter